Dim sum

Cultural Insights: The Ultimate Dim Sum Guide

September 14, 2021

Travelling to Hong Kong or Shanghai in the near future? Despite their many differences, they have common threads, particularly the ever-popular brunch mayhem that’s best known as dim sum. A longstanding tradition of many branches of Chinese cuisine, this meal consists of a variety of small plates served with a hot pot of tea. Dishes fly out of the kitchen and onto your table as the cart zooms by, but you may not be familiar with them. So, with that in mind, here’s a handy guide to the best dim sum dishes and how to enjoy them.


Har Gow Dumplings

This classic steamed dumpling is usually shrimp-based and has a delicate aroma. Occasionally you can get varieties with dill or green onion added, but this fresh dumpling should be neatly tucked in its crystal-clear rice wrap. Feel free to dip yours in a splash of soy-based seasoning.

Siu Mai Dumplings

Siu mai is another classic. However, these dumplings are open-faced. A mix of ground shrimp and pork, topped with a touch of roe, these dumplings are dangerously moreish. If you have the chance to try the dish at a high-end dim sum restaurant, it can be surprisingly impressive and elaborate.

siu mia dumplings dim sum
Photo credit: dimsumcentral.com

Sticky Rice

Wrapped in lotus leaf, steamed and usually served with Chinese sausage or pork inside, this flavourful dish is a must. It’s always reliable and provides a good base for a dim sum newbie. Be sure to share it, though, as sticky rice is ultra-filling.

sticky rice dim sum
Photo credit: dimsumcentral.com

Taro Puffs

Taro, a starchy vegetable, is very common in Asian cuisine. Be sure to sink your teeth into a taro puff for a flavourful and textural experience. These deep-fried puffs have a crispy shell filled with a sweet yet savoury cloud of fluffy taro and minced pork.


Pot-sticker Dumplings

These pork dumplings have a thicker skin than most. Therefore, they’re seared to perfection and characterised by a slight char on the outside. Filled with minced pork and green onion, be sure to try it with some red wine vinegar to break up the richness.


Turnip Cake

A personal favourite, turnip cake is made from rice flour and shredded turnips, mixed with Chinese sausage, made into squares and seared. It’s a perfect mix and a tasty, simple treat for any dim sum meal. Be sure to try it with hot mustard!

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are a common feature in dim sum, usually steamed with a touch of black bean and bell pepper. Flavourful and bite-size and a perfect compromise for those too nervous about gnawing on chicken feet!

pork ribs dim sum
Photo credit: dimsumcentral.com

Steamed BBQ Pork Buns

These white clouds are bursting with flavour. Filled with scrumptious BBQ pork, you don’t need any soy sauce for this one. Just peel off the paper base and sink your teeth into its fluffy exterior.

Noodle Rolls

Slippery, savoury noodle rolls are a dim sum staple. Usually filled with either shrimp or BBQ pork, these rolls are tricky to nab with chopsticks, so don’t be afraid to get your bowl close to your gullet. They’ll have a sweet soy sauce poured over them when served, so again, no need for additives.

Soup Dumplings

Possibly the best dumplings to have ever taken form, soup dumplings are a truly special delicacy. Be careful when tucking into these: nibble off the top of the dumpling, suck out the hot broth and slurp the rest of the dumpling up. This results in a burst of juicy meat perfectly packaged. A must-try for anyone in Shanghai!

Egg Tarts

Egg tarts are surprisingly delicious, with a flaky yet thick crust cradling a rich yet sweet custard. A perfect way to finish off your meal!

Sesame Balls

A chewy rice flour ball, with black or red bean paste in its heart, rolled in sesame seeds and deep-fried. Just delightful.

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful on your dim sum quest. For a truly gourmet adventure, be sure to have a look through our Hong Kong and China experiences, many of which feature dim sum as a highlight! Our local experts in-destination are always happy to make recommendations and offer insights on the best places to enjoy dim sum.

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